Ferocious wildfires rage in Europe as thousands of homes evacuated

19 July 2022, 14:29 | Updated: 19 July 2022, 15:37

A firefighter battles a blaze near Landiras in Gironde, southwestern France
A firefighter battles a blaze near Landiras in Gironde, southwestern France. Picture: Getty

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Firefighters and water-bombing planes continued to battle ferocious wildfires in Europe on Tuesday as tens of thousands fled homes.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Two of the worst fires, which broke out on July 12 in tinder-dry pine forests in the Gironde region of France, have forced almost 40,000 people to flee homes and summer vacation spots.

It comes amid record temperatures across Europe in recent days, with the mercury hitting 40C in the UK for the first time on Tuesday.

The blazes in Gironde have already burned through more than 70 square miles of forest and vegetation, authorities said.

READ MORE: Hottest day in UK history as temperature hits 40C during extreme heatwave

READ MORE: Swimmer missing at sea and five others rescued near Clacton Pier

One, raging south of Bordeaux, is now suspected to have been started deliberately.

A motorist told police that he saw a vehicle speeding away from the spot where that fire started on July 12.

The motorist pulled over and tried, unsuccessfully, to put out the flames, the Bordeaux prosecutor's office said.

Criminal investigators subsequently found evidence pointing to possible arson, it said.

People swim on a beach as smoke rises from a forest fire in La Teste-de-Buch in Gironde
People swim on a beach as smoke rises from a forest fire in La Teste-de-Buch in Gironde. Picture: Getty

A man was taken in for questioning was detained on Monday afternoon.

Water-bombing planes and more than 2,000 firefighters are working day and night to contain that fire and another south west of Bordeaux that investigators are treating as accidental.

Thick clouds of smoke and the risk of flames spreading to buildings have forced the evacuations of more than 37,000 people, including 16,000 on Monday alone.

A smaller third fire broke out late on Monday in the Medoc wine region north of Bordeaux.

A wildfire in Avila Province as heatwave grips Spain
A wildfire in Avila Province as heatwave grips Spain. Picture: Getty

Those evacuated on Monday included 74 residents of a retirement home. Animals were also evacuated from a zoo.

Five camp sites went up in flames in the Atlantic coast beach zone south west of Bordeaux, around the Arcachon maritime basin famous for its oysters and resorts.

In Spain, more than 30 forest fires have forced the evacuation of thousands of people and blackened some 54,300 acres over the past week.

Passengers on a train travelling through the Spanish countryside on Monday looked out of the window at wildfires encroaching on both sides of the track.

Spanish caller shares situation on the ground in Galicia

Francisco Seoane, from Spain, said: "It was really scary to see how quickly the fire spread. Just in the blink of an eye, a new bush began burning. It was a matter of seconds."

"It suddenly become night," he added. "And we could even smell the smoke."

Video of an unscheduled stop shows about a dozen passengers in Mr Seoane's carriage becoming increasingly alarmed as they look out of the windows.

Smoke darkened the skies as the train drew to a halt in the province of Zamora, where blazes have charred large areas of woodland over recent days.

The province has recorded two deaths from wildfires, a 69-year-old shepherd and a 62-year-old firefighter.

A spokeswoman for Adif, which runs the railway, said no passengers were in danger.